Student Surveys: Suggestions and Resources?

Many teachers give their incoming students some kind of start-of-term survey. Goals for such a survey might include:

  • Establishing a provisional set of major questions that the course is designed to help students address;
  • Getting a sense of what the term is going to be like, what sort of unique character this incoming class brings with them;
  • Getting a sense of how students are prepared for the kinds of work demanded of them in the course (for example, what their previous education looks like or what sorts of careers lie in their backgrounds).

I am teaching three different courses this fall, but the one I have in mind right now is “Introduction to the Old Testament.” As most of my readers will know, this course involves (among other things) the study of history, and the study of literary criticism (broadly conceived). Importantly, the academic study of the Bible involves dealing with questions in an evidentiary way. For students who have only read the Bible in a devotional or expository way, this is an adjustment: we bring such questions to the Bible as can be worked out using shared evidence and a communicable line of reasoning. So, some of the things I wonder about my incoming students are:

  • How many of them are avid readers of narrative fiction? How many are familiar with the experience of being changed and moved by an encounter with fictional characters, lives, worlds?
  • How many are avid readers of poetry? How many believe in the truth-telling power of figurative speech?
  • How many have a background in the use of evidence and reasoning to answer questions? How many have been physical scientists, lawyers, judges, mathematicians, plumbers, electricians, medical professionals?
  • How many have had sustained or varied cross-cultural experiences? How many have learned to bring open-ended questions to a person who is “Other”?
  • How many have worked full-time jobs, in or out of the home? How many are accustomed to budgeting their time in an organized way?

I could add others.

Here are my questions for you:

  1. Have you used start-of-term surveys, and if so, what are they like? What sorts of questions do you go at in such surveys?
  2. Do you know of any resources for finding samples of start-of-term surveys. Can you recommend resources or suggestions for their creation?

Thank you!

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One Response

  1. I’d be interested to hear how this works out for you, Brooke. I’ve done similar exercises, sometimes to good effect, sometimes to none.

    I’d be especially interested to learn whether you observe any correlation between avid readers of fiction and excellent biblical interpreters. My experience suggests that for many readers (both student and scholar), there’s a weird sort of force field that isolates the Bible from the rest of their literary imagination, so that even voracious readers of literary fiction can deal with Scripture in leaden ways.

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